When I was a kid, probably after the third or fourth time I went to the front of the church to recommit my life to Christ and ensure my entrance into heaven, I started to feel kind of guilty. What if God found out that the only reason I loved him was because he had the big book with all the names, and I had the secret knowledge that, if my name wasn’t in that book, I’d end up with a serious sunburn? What if he wasn’t cool with me using him as an eternal thermostat – believe in him and the temperature remains a balmy 68 degrees, FOREVER; forsake him and you’re looking at lakes of molten ore?
I am not a big fan of the beach, or sunscreen. I had trouble enjoying Las Vegas because of the 110 degree weather.
I knew that hell would not suit me.
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Christians have convinced people that everything is all about what happens after you die. You’ve seen the signs, listing out those who have fallen short and are “going to hell.” The most quoted Bible verses are those having to do with what gets you in to heaven (or not).
Avoiding hell seems to be the primary reason for being a Christian.
In some ways this works out well: when faith is eternity based, and the result of that can never be confirmed on this side of death, then you can wield that thing pretty recklessly. In other words, it’s easy to say “if you don’t do this and stop doing that, you can’t get into heaven,” because you can’t be proven wrong.
It’s much more difficult to say, “Live like this and you’ll be happy and peaceful and content,” because someone can try it and find out it’s not exactly true.
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Pretty early on in his teaching, Jesus begins saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Not, “repent, for that will get you into the kingdom of heaven.”
Not, “repent, and then after you die things will be good for you.”
No, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s right in front of you.
Then, in one of his most well-known series of teachings, he blesses the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for doing good things, saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. IS theirs. Not “will be” theirs after they die. IS theirs.
My favorite translation says “The kingdom of the heavens is among us!” The kingdom of heaven is here! Look around! Open your eyes!
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What if being a Christian meant more than just believing the right things, but had more to do with the tangible results of the life being lived?
What if being a Christian was less about avoiding hell and more about bringing as much of heaven to earth as is possible?
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This is what I love about the story of Christmas: God put heaven in his rear view mirror and came to earth to bless the marginalized, the rejected, the hurting.
Would that more of us Christians could do the same.
4 Replies to “Forget Heaven and Hell”
Great post … love that translation of Jesus’ words also, especially this line … “Open your eyes!” I hope to do that not only this season, but all the time.
Good thoughts, Shawn.
i’ve definitely been guilty of similar thinking in the past for sure. The focus on the afterlife has given some folks a free pass to treat people like crap in the here and now because a) they know they are secure for eternity,and b) all that matters is that you secure your reservation too.
it’s tough to shake those mindsets that were ingrained in you growing up in a conservative church and its tough to know what it fact, what is faith, and what is not. good thoughts.
nice post. agreed.
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